XFL 2020: East Division Preview
XFL 2020: East Division Preview

After a 19-year sabbatical, the XFL brand makes a return to the professional football landscape beginning Saturday, Feb. 8. The new version of a league that once appeared to be a quirky footnote in professional football annals resembles the standard-bearer in the sport, the NFL, much more in its tone and tenor than the 2001 edition. However, that's not to say the new version won't dabble in some innovative rule changes designed to improve the consumption and enjoyment of the product. We'll delve into the most prominent of those in our forthcoming XFL DFS 101 article.

For the moment, we'll dig into a preview of each of the two divisions in the eight-team league. The Eastern Conference – consisting of the DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis Battlehawks and Tampa Bay Vipers are up first. Our second and final preview installment will focus on the Western Conference, which features the Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats and Seattle Dragons.

DC Defenders

Head coach/General manager: Pep Hamilton

Offensive coordinator: Tanner Engstrand

Season-opening Starting Quarterback:

Cardale Jones – Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Jones hasn't played much since the 2015 season at Ohio State, and he had all of 11 regular-season attempts at the NFL level during his four-season tenure. However, Jones will certainly stand tall in the pocket at 6-foot-5 and 250-plus pounds and has a rocket arm that could pay off with DC's impressive collection of receivers.

Top Running Backs:

Donnel Pumphrey- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Jhurell Pressley- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: If these two backs play up to their physical potential, and in the case of Pressley, the level of play he exhibited a year ago in the Alliance of American Football (AAF), it may be tough for any other back to see meaningful playing time.

Pumphrey brings blinding speed and is a 2017 fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. He's a dual threat as well, having averaged 6.0 yards per rush and recording 99 receptions during a four-year college career at San Diego State in which he tallied a whopping 67 touchdowns across 54 games (41 starts).

Pressley offers 4.4 speed himself and generated an even more impressive 6.9 yards per carry over his 50 college games at New Mexico. Then, while toiling for the AAF's Arizona Hotshots last spring, Pressley finished with a league-leading 431 rushing yards before the league folded.

Top Receivers:

Rashad Ross- Age: 29/Pro Experience: 7 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Eli Rogers- Age 27/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Simmie Cobbs- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

DeAndre Thompkins- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: When the curtain closes on the inaugural XFL season, the Defenders may ultimately prove to have had the most effective group of receivers in the nascent league. They'll certainly boast one of the most seasoned, with the top four wideouts all possessing NFL experience.

Ross has the most pro football experience of the group, and even though he's got some serious seniority on a lot of his fellow wideouts around the league, the speedster showed he still had plenty of life in his wheels while posting the second-most receiving yards (583) and most receiving touchdowns (seven) in the AAF in 2019.

Rogers actually has much more regular-season NFL experience than Ross, having logged 78 receptions over 30 games between the 2016 and 2018 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rogers is an accomplished slot receiver that, like his teammate Ross, can also fill in on returns if necessary. Meanwhile, Cobbs and Thompkins, while not as seasoned as their aforementioned pair of teammates, bring impressive size and speed, respectively.

Top Tight End:

Khari Lee- Age: 28/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy analysis: Lee has plenty of experience in training camps and preseason from his time in the NFL, but he has only two regular-season catches at the pro level to his name. Nevertheless, he brings good size at 6-foot-4, 253 pounds and reportedly put together a strong camp. However, Lee may have to fend off Donnie Ernsberger as the season unfolds, as the latter showed some pass-catching upside during his final college season at Western Michigan in 2017 (34-394-4).

New York Guardians

Head coach/General manager: Kevin Gilbride

Season-opening Starting Quarterback:

Matt McGloin- Age: 30/ Pro Experience: 6 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy analysis: McGloin brings 13 games of NFL experience into the XFL, a stint during which he generated 1,868 yards and an 11:11 TD:INT. The Penn State product could therefore be one of the more game-ready quarterbacks in the new league right from the jump, and he'll work with a relatively inexperienced but potential-laden group of wideouts. McGloin will also have no shortage of incentive to play at his best – not only is he likely to parlay a strong season into an NFL training camp invite next summer, but he'll also have the talented Luis Perez, recently acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Wildcats, breathing down his neck as the No. 2 quarterback.

Top Running Backs:

Tim Cook- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Darius Victor- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (CFL)

Justin Stockton- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy analysis: The Guardians' backfield is a talented group that cumulatively sports a solid amount of pro football experience, albeit not exclusively of the NFL variety. Cook and Stockton averaged 4.9 and 5.4 yards per carry, respectively, last season in the AAF, and Stockton particularly brings a solid track record as an outlet receiving option out of the backfield as well. Meanwhile, Victor was a two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Towson who also racked up 42 total touchdowns across 40 college games.

Top Receivers:

DeAngelo Yancey - Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Tanner Gentry - Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Mekale McKay- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Teo Redding- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Joe Horn Jr. – Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook

Unfortunately for the Guardians, the two earliest investments in draft capital (Yancey and Gentry) will open the season on injured reserve. The pair could rejoin the mix at some point and stand a good chance to make up two-thirds of the starting wideouts when healthy. Of those available to open the season, McKay is the big name, as the Cincinnati University alumnus finished with a solid 22-375-4 line for the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF last season. McKay should make for an excellent red-zone target at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds and could benefit from could be a pass-heavy attack if head coach Kevin Gilbride's track record is any indication.

Redding flashed some big-play ability during his final season at Bowling Green in 2017, posting a 45-624-8 line across 11 games. He also made impressive catches throughout camp and the preseason and could be an excellent speed complement to McKay. Then, Horn, acquired in a late-camp trade with the Roughnecks, has already made a strong first impression with his elite speed in practice and could thrive while often facing the opposition's third- or fourth-best cornerback.

Top Tight End:

E.J. Bibbs- Age: 28/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

When the Guardians' receivers aren't doing damage, don't be surprised if Bibbs is making an impact up the seam. Although he's never been able to catch on at the NFL level despite multiple opportunities, Bibbs put together an impressive 84 receptions for 844 yards and 10 touchdowns in two college seasons at Iowa State, and the 28-year-old could finally get a chance to show his pass-catching corps at the pro level while working in concert with a veteran arm like McGloin.

St. Louis Battlehawks

Head coach/General manager: Jonathan Hayes

Offensive coordinator: Chuck Long

Season-opening Starting Quarterback:

Jordan Ta'amu- Age: 22/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Ta'amu offered a glimpse of his talent during his final college season at Ole Miss, throwing for 3,918 yards and 19 touchdowns while adding 342 rushing yards and another six scores on the ground. After a strong training camp and preseason, Ta'amu was named the starting quarterback and has plenty of experience running the type of uptempo offense the XFL and its 25-second play clock will require. Ta'amu should also bring some rushing upside as his college career indicates, making him one of the more intriguing fantasy prospects at the quarterback position to open the season.

Top Running Backs:

Keith Ford- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Matt Jones- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Christine Michael- Age: 29/ Pro Experience: 6 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: The Battlehawks running back room has plenty of NFL skins on the wall. That's particularly true of Michael and Jones, second- and third-round picks of the Seahawks and Redskins, respectively.

Neither one of the veteran backs has much of a reputation at the NFL level as a pass catcher, but Ford has some talent in that regard and also brings some above-average speed. It remains to be seen how head coach Jonathan Hayes, a running back in his playing days, and offensive Chuck Long, a former quarterback, handle the run-pass balance game to game, but the duo may opt to primarily lean on the two NFL vets to start the season.

Top Receivers:

Keith Mumphery-  Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Marcus Lucas- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 6 seasons (NFL)

De'Mornay Pierson-El- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (CFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: Mumphery is a 2015 fifth-round pick of the Texans who posted a 24-198 line through the air and added 618 total return yards during his two seasons in Houston. The Michigan State product's NFL career was actually cut short by a since-resolved legal matter, and at 27 years of age, he should have no shortage of tread remaining on his tires and incentive to earn himself another shot at the highest level of pro football.

Pierson-El is also an interesting prospect, considering his body of work with the AAF's Salt Lake City Stallions last spring. The Nebraska product totaled 36 receptions, 414 yards and four touchdowns before the league's demise, following a solid college career during which he generated a 100-1,309-11 line across 43 games.

Top Tight End:

Cole Hunt- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: Hunt is a mammoth target at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds that could prove to be an effective turn-and-catch outlet option for Ta'amu, not to mention a red-zone threat due to his height. Hunt saw limited opportunities in the passing game during his college days at TCU and with the AAF's San Antonio Commanders last season, but he could potentially carve out more of a role in the air attack with St. Louis. However, it's also worth noting Wes Saxton, who compiled 96 receptions during his college career and another 17 catches with the AAF's Birmingham Iron in the league's sole season, looms behind Hunt on the depth chart.

Tampa Bay Vipers

Head coach/General manager: Marc Trestman

Offensive coordinator: Jaime Elizondo

Season-opening Starting Quarterback:

Aaron Murray- Age: 29/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL), 1 season (AAF)

Like McGloin in New York, Murray is another one of the more seasoned arms slated to begin the XFL's first season under center. Murray followed a decorated college career at Georgia by putting together some solid performances with the AAF's Atlanta Legends last spring, completing 64.8 percent of his throws for 1,048 yards. Murray did show some propensity for turnovers by throwing seven interceptions, however, and he was also guilty of 41 picks across 52 college contests.

Murray offers some mobility and compiled 16 rushing touchdowns in his days with the Bulldogs, a trait that could enhance his overall fantasy value. But another member of the Vipers quarterback room brings exponentially more upside in that regard, and with the XFL allowing two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage, he could see plenty of opportunity on gadget plays. That player would be Quinton Flowers, a poor man's Lamar Jackson that finished his college career at South Florida with 8,124 passing yards and a 71:23 TD:INT that was complemented with 3,672 rushing yards and another 41 scores on the ground.

Top Running Backs:

De'Veon Smith- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL), 1 season (AAF)

Jacques Patrick- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: None

Mack Brown - Age: 28/ Pro Experience: 5 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: The Vipers backfield could be one that's primarily run by committee. Smith does bring solid size at 228 pounds and accumulated an impressive 2,486 scrimmage yards and 23 touchdowns during his four seasons with the Michigan Wolverines. He followed that strong body of work by gaining 345 yards and six touchdowns at 4.6 yards per carry with the Orlando Apollos of the AAF last year.

What Smith lacks in speed could be partly made up by the duo of Jacques and Brown, but neither one is a true burner at the position, either. Brown does boast 13 games of NFL regular-season experience with the Redskins (2016-17) and Vikings (2018), however, and all three backs could realistically have their own consistent role in the ground attack to start the campaign.

Top Receivers:

Antonio Callaway- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Seantavius Jones - Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 5 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Reece Horn- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Donteea Dye- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Tanner McEvoy- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: This group could arguably challenge the Defenders' for one of the most accomplished pass-catching corps to start the season. Callaway is potentially the crown jewel of the bunch, considering the talented but troubled 2018 fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns is only out of the NFL due to a 10-game suspension for a substance-abuse violation. However, Callaway apparently suffered a lower-leg injury at practice on Wednesday, Jan. 29, with the talented receiver having to be carted off the field. He has since been placed on injured reserve, leaving a massive hole to fill at the top of the depth chart.

The Vipers do have some impressive reinforcements in the likes of Jones, Horn and Dye, who all enjoyed varying levels of success in the AAF last season. Horn particularly proved to be an effective route runner with good hands, while Dye possesses elite speed that makes him a potential force downfield. Meanwhile, Jones has excellent size at 6-foot-3 and proved to be a dependable possession receiver with the Atlanta Legends last season, garnering 24 receptions for 298 yards.

Top Tight End:

Nick Truesdell- Age: 29/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (Indoor Football League/Arena Football League)/ 3 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: Few players in the XFL have chased the pro football dream in as many different locales as Truesdell, who most recently flashed his pass-catching talent with the AAF's Salt Lake Stallions last spring. Truesdell led the AAF in catch rate by bringing in 24 of 27 targets for 269 yards and three touchdowns last spring. Moreover, with his indoor football experience, the veteran certainly has no shortage of experience playing in fast-paced attacks. Particularly in the event of an extended Callaway absence, Truesdell could prove to be one of the more prolific pass-catching threats at the tight end position in the XFL.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juan Carlos Blanco
Winner of the FSWA 2016 Newcomer of the Year Award, Juan Carlos Blanco has been playing fantasy sports for over 20 years and covers NBA, MLB, NFL, CFL and Arena Football for Rotowire.com, including serving as the beat writer for teams in multiple sports. He has previously written for KFFL.com and remains an avid season-long and daily fantasy player in multiple sports as well.
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